Connor Schultz found himself at the bottom of a joyous dogpile early Wednesday evening.
Lakota West High School’s baseball team rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning against district rival Lakota East, and Schultz finished the 7-6 victory with a two-out, walkoff single to score Max Kiker from second base.
“That was all right,” Schultz, a senior left fielder, said of the postgame celebration. “I cleated someone, but it was all happy feelings. Senior Day, against East, pull out the dub … I can’t even explain it.”
Nicolas Wiles picked up the win in relief of Joey Gelter and Konrad Kowalk as the Firebirds improved to 14-9 overall and 11-6 in the Greater Miami Conference.
West officially sank East’s hopes for the GMC championship, with the Thunderhawks falling to 17-4, 13-4. Mason (18-5, 15-2) defeated Sycamore 5-2 to wrap up the outright conference title.
“Lakota East-Lakota West is pretty much always this way. Back and forth, doesn’t matter what your records are,” West coach Greg Leurck said. “Give it to our guys for hanging in there and being tough outs. You could see it even when we were up there with two strikes. We were battling and fouling them off until we could get a pitch we could hit.”
East fought back from a 5-2 deficit with two runs in the fifth inning and two more in the sixth to move ahead 6-5. Mitchell Reardon’s two-run single in the sixth looked like it might be the game-winning hit.
Instead, the Thunderhawks stranded nine runners and watched their 10-game winning streak come to an end.
“I thought it was a good game,” East coach Ray Hamilton said. “I think it kind of revealed what we’ve done all year long, and that’s battle to be in games and in position to win. We’ve won a lot of games, but today, we just didn’t.”
Bryce Johnson and Keegan Fish had two hits apiece for the Firebirds. They opened the bottom of the seventh with singles off Thunderhawks starter Nathan Haberthier.
Johnson bunted for a hit and went to second on an error, and Fish followed with an RBI single to tie the game at 6-6. A.J. Petersen greeted East reliever Dylan Smith with a sacrifice bunt, sending Kiker (who replaced Fish on base) to second. Alex Jarboe was intentionally walked and Mitchell Wagner flew out with no advancement.
That brought Schultz to the plate. He smacked an 0-2 pitch into right field to send Kiker around third and across home plate.
“Against East, one of our biggest opponents, you’ve just got to clutch up,” Schultz said. “When I went down 0-2, I was like, ‘All right, I’m sitting fastball and looking for the change.’ He threw me a fastball, and I just tried to put it in play and see what happens.
“When I first hit it, I thought it was going to be a ground ball (and) I was going to get out. But it went a little bit to the right and got through, and by that time I knew it was game over.”
Schultz brought a .283 average into the game. He fouled off an 0-2 curveball before his game-ending hit.
“That curveball was a really tough pitch, and it looked like it had him,” Leurck said. “But he fouled it off and stayed alive. You’ve got to give it to him.”
Petersen, Andrew Brownley, Aiden Reverman and Wagner all had RBIs for West. Sean Church collected two singles, a double and an RBI for East, while Devon Milburn and Dan Sewak added two hits apiece, and Milburn and Garrison Hamilton plated runs.
Ray Hamilton said it’s been an outstanding season thus far for the Thunderhawks, with or without a GMC championship.
“We had to replace a lot of guys this year, but I felt like we had some talent there too,” Hamilton said. “I was right in that aspect. It’s been a great group. They show up and play every day and compete and have fun and don’t get real tight about issues.”
Hamilton reached a milestone April 26 in a 14-8 triumph over Colerain — it was the 500th victory of his 29-year coaching career. He’s now at 505 wins (197 in 11 years at Ross and 308 in 18 years at East).
“It kind of caught me by surprise,” Hamilton said. “Five hundred is a big number, but you get so locked into the day-to-day that you really don’t think about those things. There’s no focus on what we’ve done or how long you’ve been doing it.
“When you look back on those 29 years, we’ve had a lot of great players and great coaches, so that’s what that’s reflective of. All that stuff is great because it just shows how good your teams have been.”
West honored its nine seniors Wednesday, and they all saw action. That group includes Petersen, Brownley, Fish, Schultz, Johnson, Reverman, Wagner, Kowalk and Michael Medley.
The Firebirds made it to the Division I state tournament last year, and Leurck admitted this season has been something of a roller coaster.
“They’ve been hearing from us when we’ve been playing poorly, and we try to give them praise and be positive when we’re doing really well,” Leurck said. “We can do anything if we stick together and play hard and put the ball in play.”
LEHS will celebrate its Senior Day on Thursday when the two teams close the GMC season at East. The starting pitchers are slated to be Aiden Talarek for the Thunderhawks and Jarboe for the Firebirds.
West leads this series 29-14.
Lakota East 110-022-0—6-11-2
Lakota West 200-300-2—7-9-3
WP — Nicolas Wiles (1-0); LP — Nathan Haberthier (5-1). Records: LE 17-4, 13-4 GMC; LW 14-9, 11-6 GMC